Blippar Believes Its Image Recognition App Goes Beyond Augmented Reality

5/29/13Follow @jpruth

Among the tricks that smartphones can learn, augmented reality is still maturing its way towards the mainstream, but Blippar hopes its app will become as common as tweeting.

Augmented reality is a way to view one’s surroundings using cameras on mobile devices to see virtual layers of images and information inserted into the scene. Blippar’s platform helps market products and brands with content consumers can see or “blipp” using their smartphones. As the company expands its U.S. operations from its New York office, Blippar also sees opportunities to marry its app in the future with Google Glass.

Lisa Hu, Blippar’s vice president of business development for the U.S., says when the company’s app recognizes images such as logos, ads, or other two-dimensional graphics, it pulls up related content such as recipes and games. The company hopes to see the public regularly “blipping” products to discover exclusive and interactive media. It’s “similar to how you ‘Google’, ‘Tweet’, ‘Shazam’, or ‘Like’ something,” Hu says. “Whether it is The New York Times, a Starbucks coffee, or Vogue magazine to pull that rich content.”

Last week Blippar announced it has begun working with Anheuser-Busch to promote a campaign for the Folds of Honor Foundation nonprofit organization. Folds of Honor provides scholarships and other assistance to the families of soldiers who gave their lives or were disabled in the line of duty. When people use the Blippar app on the beer maker’s Budweiser logo they can vote for which states they want to see receive scholarships from the foundation. According to Blippar, this is the Budweiser brand’s first time using crowdsourcing to determine how some of its philanthropic funding will be spent.

Born in London in 2011, Blippar thinks its app can have worldwide appeal. “It’s about utilizing that tech to be a consumer-facing platform,” Hu says.

Blippar's app pulls up content when it recognizes a product label.

Currently some 2.4 million people use the app, she says. The company’s technology includes geotagging to offer different blipps based on where users are. New features are also in development for the platform. “We know the behavior of phones though we don’t know the people,” Hu says. “Depending on the pattern of what people are blipping, it’s going to help trigger customized content.”

The company is also working on three-dimensional visual recognition, she says, that would let users blipp a dog, for example—and potentially people. Hu says the app could also pair well with the Google Glass head-mounted-display. “If you’re wearing the glasses and say ‘blipp this’, you’d get rich content,” she says.

In a way, Blippar’s concept is comparable to QR code campaigns—however, the app’s algorithm matches visuals such as brand labels with content in its library, instead of funky-looking matrix barcodes. Blipping on a celebrity’s poster, for example, might trigger an audio message from the star. The company’s platform works with certain billboards, product packaging, and even landmarks.

The app can be a way for marketers and consumer goods companies to better understand what customers want, Hu says, in granular detail. “We want to package everything from a data perspective so it ultimately helps to convert better in [return on investment],” she says.

So far the app has been used to promote the likes of Justin Bieber’s “Believe” album, Domino’s Pizza, and magazine ShortList. Cadbury was Blippar’s first campaign. “You held up your phone to a chocolate bar and would get an interactive ‘Quack Smack’ game,” Hu says, who brought her media strategy background from Reuters to Blippar.

The Cadbury campaign led to deals with other clients, she says, and a desire to enter the U.S. market. Now Blippar also works with Hasbro, L’Oreal, Best Buy, Time, and Coca-Cola.

Blippar is collaborating with brands, Hu says, to put the word out on more labels, packaging, and websites to let consumers know about using the app on products. L’Oreal’s Maybelline brand, she says, put out an interactive advertisement that directed consumers to download the app in order to virtually try on nail polish with their mobile devices.

Last August Blippar set up its New York office, which Hu heads up, to be among major ad agencies and media giants. The local staff of five, largely in business development, is expected to grow as technical personnel for Web design and support are hired, she says.

Competitors in the augmented reality space, Hu says, tend to discreetly embed technology into brands’ platforms or offer white-label services that rarely get their own names among consumers. Blippar, she says, plans to elevate its presence through the app while helping to market products. The company also partners with Facebook so that users who opt-in can share their blipps with friends.

Even if a product or image is not in Blippar’s system, the company keeps track of those requests to open up dialogues with brands. “We can take that information and say ‘thousands of people want content from you,’” Hu says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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